PARIS, Feb. 8, 2010 - Iran's continuing nuclear development program only serves to put the Middle East in danger of nuclear weapons proliferation, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.
But, Gates pushed for stronger diplomatic and economic pressure from the international community rather than calling for military conflict.
"I think that everybody's interest is in seeing this issue resolve without resorting to conflict. But it makes it all the more important," he said. "We have to face the reality that if Iran continues and develops nuclear weapons it almost certainly will provoke proliferation in the Middle East. That's a huge danger."
Gates' comments came at a press conference alongside France's Minister of Defense HervÃ© Morin. Gates flew here today to meet with the ministers of defense and foreign affairs as well as France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, who he will meet for the first time.
Morin backed Gates' comments on Iran, saying that France supports putting international pressure on Iran to stop its current nuclear program.
Since 2006, France has repeatedly publicly stressed the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran and has worked with the United States and other members of the P5+1 group -- China, Russia, the United Kingdom and Germany -- to demand that Iran end its current nuclear program, according to the U.S. State Department.
Gates said that if all international partners would agree on a plan, then sanctions could still work.
"The key is persuading Iranian leaders that their long-term best interests are best served by not having nuclear weapons, as opposed to having them," Gates said. "My hope is that we will then be able to keep this in economic and diplomatic channels.
"The point of the pressure is to bring the Iranians back to the negotiating table and to resolve this issue in a way that prevents Iran from having a nuclear weapon," he added.
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